Drink and drug driving law - Transport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 77-114)



Witnesses: Robert Gifford, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), Deputy Chief Constable Adam Briggs, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and Ellen Booth, Campaigns Officer, Brake, gave evidence.

Q77   Chair: Good afternoon. Could I ask our witnesses to introduce themselves, please, for our records?

Robert Gifford: I am Robert Gifford. I am Executive Director of PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

DCC Briggs: I am Adam Briggs. I am the Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police and have national responsibility within the ACPO Roads Policing Business Area.

Ellen Booth: I am Ellen Booth and I am the Campaigns Officer for Brake, the road safety charity.

Chair: Thank you very much. Deputy Chief Constable, one of the constant points that has been made in our evidence session today is the importance of enforcement. At a time of scarce resources, it has been suggested that, perhaps, enforcement at a lower level of alcohol permitted in the blood would not be as effective in saving lives as would more enforcement of people who have much more excessive drinking than the current limit allows. What are your views on that?

DCC Briggs: Okay, I think there are a number of different elements of this. The first thing I would say is that actually dealing with the culture and psychology of the issue and the psychology of the fact that people will get caught for drink-driving is an important message to get across.

We have increased our enforcement activity over the past few years and all our Christmas and summer campaigns have seen big increases in that. So we do support the lowering of the limit to 50. We do say that that will have an effect on saving lives and reducing the toll on our roads, and we do believe that we can get some effective enforcement messages out to actually deal with that.

The other side of the argument, for me, is that, when we look at the resources that are required to actually deal with the collisions that take place and the tragedy that follows from them, then the reduction in those collisions and the fatal and serious consequences is something that will ease our resources rather than put more strain on them.

Q78   Chair: Are you saying, then, that in current circumstances and with the predicted problems on funding for the police you are going to be able to enforce a lower limit and that that would not be at the expense of going after the people who are driving at higher levels of alcohol than are currently allowed and killing more people?

DCC Briggs: We would always advocate a very strong message around drinking and driving. We will target our resources appropriately and so, again, we are in support of the measures around random testing but that random testing will be intelligence-led. So it needs to be at the right place at the right time to be targeted. We will always prioritise our resources around what needs to be done, but we do think the message and the evidence is very clear—that the limit should be reduced to 50 and if it is reduced to 50 our commitment is there to enforce it.

Robert Gifford: Thank you very much, Mrs Ellman. I think what Mr Briggs has said is absolutely right. There is a correlation between breath testing and statistics. I know the Committee has got the Report. I was just going to draw your attention to chart 3.7 in Sir Peter's Report, on page 63, which shows how the number of breath tests has changed over the last decade and how the number of killed and serious injury casualties has changed as well. Put very crudely, the more testing you have, the fewer people will be killed and injured. It is not an absolute year on year correlation. It is what I call a lagging indicator. As the numbers of breath tests go down, the number of casualties goes up the next year, and in reverse. I think that is really important so I don't think we should lose sight of that. There is a lot of police activity going on at the moment with the current limit which will continue with the new limit. It is just that we catch some different and extra people.

Chair: Mr Leech, you wanted to ask a specific question.

Q79   Mr Leech: Yes. First of all, can I declare an interest, that I am a member of PACTS, just in case I am asking questions of Mr Gifford.

Mr Briggs, can you tell me what the difference would be in the stopping and breathalysing regime if the limit was reduced from 80 to 50, because I can't see that there would actually be any difference in the way you would stop people because, surely, you would still be stopping people who looked as though they were being impaired by drink or drugs?

DCC Briggs: The regime would not change. There would still be the same operational ways of dealing with these matters. If we suspected that a driver was impaired or if a collision had taken place, we would breathalyse the drivers concerned in that. So, operationally, that wouldn't change.

Q80   Mr Leech: In terms of the actual potential extra resources that might be necessary for the police, it would only be if the number of people who were over the limit was increased and the amount of activity that would be required in terms of taking people to police stations and going through all those procedures?

DCC Briggs: Again, there is a balance there, to where we see the reduction in casualties and tragedies that are associated with casualties and the real resource that takes to actually deal with that because, obviously, our traffic resources, our officers, are far too often tied up for a long time dealing with these serious incidents.

Q81   Chair: Was your answer to Mr Leech's question, "Yes"? It is important that is on the record - that you said that.

DCC Briggs: Yes.

Q82   Mr Leech: Would you agree with me, then, that the argument that people make about it being more difficult to enforce is a bit bogus?

DCC Briggs: Well, I don't make that argument. I think enforcement would continue as it is now. Yes, there would be more people who are actually caught breaking the law but I, again, commit to enforcing that because I think it is the right thing to do.

Q83   Paul Maynard: Are there changes to the enforcement process that you would have liked to see independent of any changes to the drink-drive limit and would your ability to implement any such changes be affected by a change in that limit?

DCC Briggs: In terms of drink-driving or drink-driving and drugs?

Paul Maynard: Both.

DCC Briggs: I will start with drugs, if I may, because we have a slightly different view to Sir Peter's Report. We feel that the law on drug-driving should be changed. The reason for that is that, currently, the law and procedure around drug-driving is very, very difficult to do operationally. I think you have heard evidence around the field impairment testing—some of the difficulties around that. But, also, the police station procedure is difficult as well with the Medical Examiner and with some of the issues around impairment.

We would like there to be a very clear law that says, "If you take illegal drugs and drive that is an absolute offence". We feel the impairment side of that should be removed. If that was the case, that would make it more effective to use technology to start to deal with examining the presence of drugs within people, either at the roadside or at a police station. But we seek to have impairment removed from the current legislation, which we do not think is fit for purpose. We think there should be significant change around that.

Q84   Paul Maynard: How would that affect those who are taking legal prescription drugs?

DCC Briggs: In the first instance, we would like to see the law focus around the drugs that we think are the biggest problem: for example, skunk cannabis, heroin, amphetamines and cocaine. On a risk basis, those recreational drugs are probably the basket that causes the most problems. Yes, of course, there are peripheral drugs—prescription drugs—and other issues around that. But we think that there should be a change in the law around those drugs which are illegal to possess and illegal to take—it should also be illegal to drive with those in your blood.

Q85   Paul Maynard: Is there an evidence base available that demonstrates that it is illegal drugs which are the problem rather than prescription drugs?

DCC Briggs: Frankly, there is a shortage of data and evidence around this. I think that, for us, our anecdotal view of this particular world is around the drugs culture within this country and within Europe and the consequence of people subsequently driving as well as taking drugs. But I have to be frank: the evidence base is not where we would like it to be, but we do believe that one of the current real problems with challenging this hidden issue of drug-driving is the fact that, procedurally and legally, it is very, very difficult for us to be successful at it.

Q86   Paul Maynard: Would it be accurate, therefore, to say that your views on drug-driving are couched in a wider consideration of drug culture, rather than on a specific road safety measure?

DCC Briggs: What I would say is, in the road safety business, from a police officer's perspective, we are in the business of reducing harm and reducing risk—harm to our communities.

My perspective of drug taking is this, really. If somebody takes drugs in a recreational way then, okay, that is a matter for them. It is illegal, but it is a matter for them. When somebody takes drugs and gets into a motor vehicle, it is a real, serious concern. So I do see a difference. The taking of illegal drugs is against the law, but getting into a motor vehicle is a real aggravating factor, in my view.

Chair: Mr Gifford, you want to come in on this one.

Robert Gifford: I was going to answer, if I might, on the drink part as well because I think, quite rightly, Mr Briggs concentrated on drugs there, and that was the question which the Committee was grappling with earlier about random/targeted/intelligence-led breath- testing.

As I understand it, the current position of the police is they can breathalyse you if you are involved in a crash; they can breathalyse you if you commit a moving traffic offence; they can breathalyse you if they believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Operationally, probably they can catch you anyway. But I think the question is whether the general public believes they can be stopped at any point—or the driving public, rather.

When the Road Safety Bill was going through Parliament, there was an amendment tabled which was based on the Dangerous Knives Act which allows an Inspector to declare an area where anybody can be searched. We felt that that posed a very interesting model for, if you like, a targeted drink intervention. So I think it is not so much, "Would it change what the police do?" Probably not. But, "Would it send a clear message to the driving public that, within that area, over a 24-hour or a week period, they might well be stopped?" That might just culturally change their mindset a little bit. I think that is something that would be worth considering. That Act may not be the right model. I'm not saying it is, but it was there on the Statute Book.

Q87   Iain Stewart: My question actually follows on very neatly from that. I accept the point about changing public perception but, at the moment, to what extent do police target certain areas and times and groups of people not to randomly breathalyse them but to watch for signs that they are driving erratically? Do you target, for example, after big sporting events or city centre night clubs? Is that already part of police operations or is it just that a police officer sees someone driving erratically and will pull them over?

DCC Briggs: We have intelligence-led operations in relation to where we believe there is a specific issue. So that is the first thing. Obviously, officers on patrol will deal with what they deal with, as such, and particularly during campaigns. We actually have roadside campaigns in some forces where we will stop a series of vehicles. We will give a drink-drive message to drivers. If we suspect that alcohol has been taken, we will conduct a breath test. Some forces ask all drivers if they will voluntarily take a breath test, and when we have tried these pilots, if you like, then we have found there is a lot of public support for that kind of police activity.

It sounds controversial but, again, the public feedback that we have had is that the public are glad that we are actually out there doing this and taking the issue seriously.

Q88   Iain Stewart: In effect, we have almost a random breathalysing by the back door?

DCC Briggs: We have the powers to conduct tests in the way that I have described. I think the big thing about the change in the law on breath-testing is the psychology behind it.

Iain Stewart: I completely accept the point about changing it. Yes.

DCC Briggs: My point, moving on from drugs to drink, is that I think the message for somebody who is a hardened drink-driver, the chances of them being caught being increased considerably is perhaps one of the only avenues for us to actually get into a hard core of people who are the highest risk.

Q89   Iain Stewart: If I can follow on from that—you did touch on it in an earlier answer—if the limit was reduced there will be a group of people who might not be driving erratically but still be in that 50 to 80 band. How would you change your attempt to enforce that limit?

DCC Briggs: There are a number of things, really, around that. The first thing I can say around the 50 is that the evidence is there for us around impairment—the fact that people do become impaired at that level of alcohol.

How do we change enforcement? Obviously, if we had the powers to do the random testing then the random testing regime would collect that, as would some of our campaigns as I have described. But, also, the fact is that, with our new breath-testing equipment, we have seen 2% of drivers that have been involved in collisions between 50 and 80. So we have already spotted 2% in that collision area. Obviously, the principal reason for stopping somebody is an observed offence or an observed driving behaviour. So people would be caught and dealt with as a result of those observations.

Iain Stewart: May I be permitted one separate question, and it is quite a specific geographic one? Sir Peter touched on the point that it is proposed that the law in Scotland should be devolved to Holyrood. Do you foresee any difficulties, particularly in enforcement, if, potentially, you had one limit in Scotland and one in England or, apart from, maybe, in Berwick-on-Tweed and Carlisle, will it not be a significant issue?

Chair: Can I ask Mr Briggs about that one?

DCC Briggs: I really do believe in consistency in enforcement. Part of my role within ACPO is for European roads policing and so I work closely with colleagues throughout Europe and I am a member of TISPOL, which is a European network of roads policing officers. As I think you are aware, every country in Europe, except ourselves and Malta, is at 0.5 and I think, from the motorists' perspective, the public's perspective, that consistency is really important. I would be concerned if there was a different limit between England and Scotland.

Robert Gifford: Two points, if may: one in answer to Mr Stewart's question about the cross-border issue. In Europe, at the moment, there is quite a live discussion on a directive on cross-border enforcement which is looking at the wider enforcement of road traffic penalties. That is, I think, a priority for the Belgian Presidency and, no doubt, this House will want to consider it. It doesn't include drink-driving. It is mostly about speeding and seatbelt wearing but I think there is an issue there.

Also, on the impairment point, if I may just to back up what Mr Briggs was saying, I fundamentally disagree with Mr Heymer's interpretation of what he called the Grand Rapids Study and the impairment curve. I would draw your attention, again, within Sir Peter's Report, to paragraph 329 onwards-

Mr Leech: What page?

Robert Gifford: Page 65. That was when he was looking at the international evidence on, and drawing on that NICE Report, the link between alcohol consumption and accident involvement. The Grand Rapids Study, which was undertaken in America in the 1960s, identified that the risk of involvement in a crash doubles between a BAC of 50 and 80. That's not including the number of people who die as a result. That's just a statistical and scientific piece of evidence. I think that is why, historically, we have always supported 50, because the scientific evidence is there that backs that up. It then goes up even steeper once you are over 80 but I think it is worth you looking at those paragraphs in detail. I'm sorry to give you your homework.

Q90   Chair: Thank you. Ms Booth, do you have any views on the cross-border issue? I mean, a different rule in Scotland.

Ellen Booth: Yes. Obviously, from an enforcement point of view having consistency would clearly make sense, and as well from a public perception point of view. If we are talking about setting limits, of course, that does make a difference to what people perceive to be a safe limit as well because, if we set a limit by law, people then say, "Of course, that's a safe limit". So if we have two different limits, in Scotland and England, there will be increasing confusion about what is a safe limit. So I would say it is better to have consistency.

Angela Smith: I have two separate questions. The first one relates to the relationship between alcohol and speed. If we are talking about consistency of message, in a lot of cases alcohol may, of course, help to underpin speed, which may have caused the fatality or the serious accident. Nevertheless, if you leave alcohol to one side, speeding is still one of the major causes of fatality on the road. Is it not inconsistent, therefore, for legislators or Government to send out a message which says, "Drink driving is dangerous and we are going to clamp down on it, we are going to reduce the limit and enforce it", etc, while, on the other hand, perhaps saying, "We are going to release the pressure in terms of enforcement on speed"? Is it not important to have a consistency of message across the board when it comes to road safety and driving?

DCC Briggs: It is important. For me—and I have studied this across Europe—the three main killers, across Europe, are drink and drug-driving, speed and seatbelts. The consistency of message around enforcement and education is linked to that. But enforcement is a really important aspect of that. The example in France is a 40% reduction as a result of starting to enforce. So there is a good evidence base across the Continent. There has to be a consistency of message around that, and we have seen casualty reduction consistently in this country because of our commitment to enforcement and education that supports that.

Robert Gifford: I think you are absolutely right about consistency of message and what one would hope is that, in the run-up to 2011, we will see a new road safety strategy emerging from the current Government which will pick up what should be the priority areas. The only caveat I would put on your comparison, if you like, between speed and alcohol—and it is not a substantial one—is that, clearly, a driver who has consumed an amount of alcohol which is impairing his ability to do things, who then gets in a car and sits behind the wheel, is making a conscious decision, "I am going to drink and drive knowing that I am impaired". On the other hand, a driver's choice of speed may change across a journey almost moment by moment. It is still impairing because it leaves him—predominantly him—less room for manoeuvre when he or somebody else makes a mistake. But it doesn't quite have the same mental connection in the mind as, "I know I've had something to drink. I may fall over". "I know I'm going to speed. I may crash". They haven't quite made that.

Angela Smith: It is a tricky moral area.

Robert Gifford: I know. I'm just being absolutely honest with you. It is really difficult. That, in a sense, is where, although, historically, successive Ministers have been absolutely right to say, "We want to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink- driving", it is a much harder task to do.

Q91   Angela Smith: But that's the importance of enforcement, is it not?

Robert Gifford: Absolutely, yes - including cameras.

Lilian Greenwood: I am concerned specifically with enforcement, really, which, I think, probably concerns all three of you, in terms of the evidence that there is of the value in bringing the limit down to 50 rather than 80 because people are impaired between 50 and 80. Mr Briggs, you said that enforcement was very important. In the context of the current fiscal situation and there being a reduction in police funding, which potentially might change the amount of resources available for enforcement, do you think reducing the limit would still have an effect, or might there be unintended consequences in that there would be less time or less resources to concentrate on those people who are most in excess of the limit? For example, if you breathalyse someone and they are at 60, you then have to go back to the police station to deal with all the processing of that and then you are not catching other people. Does that make sense? Can you lower the limit when you may not have the same resources for enforcement, Mr Briggs?

DCC Briggs: I understand the context of the points that you make there and I'm not saying that there aren't going to be real challenges around this in terms of the financial outlook. But the first thing that we should say, from an enforcement point of view, is: where is the law rightly placed? Where should the law be, and what's the evidence around that? Then we should target and prioritise our resources in the best way that we can. So I wouldn't say that there wouldn't be resourcing challenges, but our duty, first of all, is to comment on what we think the legislative framework should be in terms of effectiveness. That is for others to decide, not for us, but we should give a professional view of that, and our professional view is that the limit should be at 50. We will enforce it. There might be some implications around resourcing as a whole within policing, but we will enforce the change in the law if the law changes.

Q92   Angela Smith: My further question relates to an earlier point I made around education. I want to separate education as a really necessary part of drink- driving and drug-driving laws, from the confusion that arises around an understanding of how much people are actually drinking when they are in pubs and restaurants. The Report makes it clear that people's lack of understanding and confusion around what they can safely drink means that, actually, very often they deliberately target at a very low level to make sure they are under the limit. The difficulty, however, is that in many pubs, when you think you might be drinking one unit you are drinking two.

DCC Briggs: Yes.

Q93   Angela Smith:Is it time to force licensed establishments to standardise what they offer in terms of, for instance, a glass of wine—125 ml rather than 175—as being the understood measure? I appreciate that there are different amounts of alcohol in different drinks but is it not time, nevertheless, to say that a glass of wine is 125 ml rather than 175?

Robert Gifford: I think that matter probably goes wider than this Inquiry. I absolutely agree with you. I was present when you put that question to Sir Peter. I have had the experience of going into a pub and, when I asked what size a small glass was, being told, "Well, it's 250", which is not what I call small. Then you are told, "Oh, by the way, if you and your wife have two, you can have the rest of the bottle free"—hang on a minute, this is going way too far. So I think you are absolutely right to raise that question, although it feels like it is slightly outside the terms.

Can I just give another example, which is on a parallel with that? I was on holiday in France this summer and it is the law, certainly in cafés in northern France, that if you have a happy hour and you are offering cheap alcohol, you have to have the same happy hour for cheap non-alcoholic drinks. That is quite an interesting one.

Q94   Angela Smith: Absolutely. But is it beyond the scope of this Inquiry because, if we lower the limit, it's incumbent on us to make it easier for people to stay within the new law?

Chair: Anything we ask is in the scope of the Inquiry.

Robert Gifford: Okay. I think it raises the question, and actually the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions did do that within its combating drink-driving consultation over a decade ago, which said, "If we are going to lower the limit then we will have to educate people about units". That is a real challenge to us in road safety because our historic position is, "Don't do it. Don't drink and drive". But, actually, possibly a more mature approach is to say, "Okay, that is what a unit of alcohol is"—with all the qualifications about it; personal, time of day, what you ate, etc, etc—"and, therefore, you will need to think very carefully about what you're doing". That becomes a more mature relationship between the state and its citizens.

Angela Smith: I agree with that.

Q95   Kwasi Kwarteng: Can I ask a question specifically on this point? It seems to me now that there are an infinite amount of alcoholic drinks you can buy. It was not the same 30 years ago. If you went into a pub 30 years ago there may be two or three things you would buy but, now, there are lots of things. Given the number of drinks and the different strengths and all the rest of it, how realistic do you think education on that front is? How realistic is it to say, "One pint of this lager equals one point of this bitter equals whatever"?

Chair: Mr Gifford, do you want to comment on that?

Kwasi Kwarteng: Honestly.

Robert Gifford: Actually, honestly, I don't know. It is an absolute challenge because you are quite right. What has happened is we are undertaking a debate about drinking and driving within a context of wholesale change of alcohol consumption and provision.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Completely, yes.

Robert Gifford: So the simplist in me says, "Lower the limit. It'll be absolutely fine." The realist in me says, "Hang on a minute. Is that going to tackle the problems in city centres on Saturday and Sunday night? Do those people think about how many they are consuming? Do I sometimes think about it when I have a glass or two of wine at home?" You are absolutely right to raise the question. This Inquiry is also part of a wider debate about alcohol in our society.

Q96   Chair: Ms Booth, do you have a view on this?

Ellen Booth: Yes, Brake does have a view. We think one of the major issues with a drink-drive limit that is over 20 mg is that you are asking people to make a judgment, and they do not have the knowledge with which to make that judgment. So, in effect, you might well be criminalising people by asking them to calculate how units of drinks of varying strengths translate into a certain BAC limit and then to estimate whether they are safe to drive.

Our point of view is that you should lower the limit to 20 mg which, effectively, means no drink-driving and we back that for a number of reasons. We back that because, even at measures above 20, you are still, as a driver, three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. That would be just involving yourself, but then you have to consider that there are other road users that you share the road with. So, for a number of reasons, we would say that that is a really favourable idea, again, for this idea of confusion over compliance, and we would say, actually, although this seems to have been passed over, there is a great deal of support for taking a zero tolerance approach to drink-driving.

Q97   Chair: The North Report said there wasn't.

Ellen Booth: Yes. I can cite the Royal College of Nursing's Annual Conference where they voted in favour of a zero tolerance approach; the British Social Attitude Survey 2009, where 83% of respondents said that people shouldn't drink any alcohol before driving - 83% agreed and 58% strongly agreed; and Brake's own 2010 survey which surveyed 800 random drivers and found that 55% of drivers felt that a limit of 20 or less would be preferable. There is a good degree of evidence out there that people really do feel strongly about this.

Q98   Chair: You are disputing the findings of the Report which said there was not public support?

Ellen Booth: The British Social Attitude Survey and the Royal College of Nursing were actually within the North Report, which he did cite.

Julian Sturdy: If I can just pick up on two points with Mr Briggs, one of which you have already covered slightly, but I would just like to delve into it a little bit more. You talked about the testing that we have at the moment for drink-driving and the fact there is new equipment now. This is something I asked Sir Peter North. Can you get some statistics on the basis of between 50 and 80? You said it is 2%.

DCC Briggs: 2% involved in collisions, yes.

Q99   Julian Sturdy: 2% involved in collisions that had been tested?

DCC Briggs: Yes.

Q100   Julian Sturdy: And for how long has that information been collected and calibrated? Do you feel that is enough or is it something that should be expanded?

DCC Briggs: I would like to see more research on this. I would like to see us expand the evidence base. This has developed over the last 12 to 18 months as new equipment has been brought in and new equipment is being used by police forces across the country. But we do need to be more robust in collating such data and analysing it in a more informed way.

Q101   Julian Sturdy: As a police force, you would be quite happy to do that or capable of doing that? It is not too onerous to ask you to take that on?

DCC Briggs: We have the data to be able to present around the 2%, and we are tightening up the quality of that data across the country as this equipment settles down and is used more effectively. So as our database grows over time, we will be in a position to be more informed about it.

Q102   Julian Sturdy: Thank you. The second point was on drug- driving. What is your view on zero tolerance—specifically on illegal drugs. Do you think that is enforceable?

DCC Briggs: Yes, I do think it is enforceable, and this is where I would really pitch my argument for significant change in this area, because there isn't the deterrent out there for people who take recreational drugs and drive. We need to have a much stronger legislative framework to work within. That will then lead to us being able to use new technology quicker and more effectively, and if we take the impairment argument out of the way, we will also save a huge amount of time and cost on Medical Examiners, on the cost to the courts and everyone else, because the current procedural framework is just a series of opportunist loopholes on various aspects of the legal process. So I am seeking change on that.

Q103   Kelvin Hopkins: On enforcement, the most striking statistic in all the reports is the fact that on the Continent, on average, countries across the board breath- test five times more drivers than we do, which is quite astonishing. Is that a matter of policy or resource, or is it to do with the fact that, by law, we don't randomly breath test, although you have said that, effectively, you can because you only need the slightest excuse to stop someone? But just raising that figure to the continental average would, surely, transform the situation?

DCC Briggs: I think it would in terms of the prevention aspect of what we are seeking to do. The reason why the figures are so high across the Continent is simply due to the tactics used in random testing. For example, in Holland, at any point of any road, night or day, they will put a random screening operation into place and they will breath-test everybody. So they will breath-test every driver in a long line of traffic around that. That has been the way that they have enforced for years. So, when you look at those screening numbers, they are huge. So there are different approaches across the Continent. If random testing comes within the law here, there will be an increase in activity.

Q104   Kelvin Hopkins: Is it not the case, yet again, of British Governments dragging their feet on these measures? In almost every road safety measure, we have always been behind the curve, in a sense.

DCC Briggs: I think random testing will really improve safety on the roads. That is my professional opinion. I think that that will encourage some of my colleagues in police forces across the country to conduct more of a testing regime around it. I think there is public support for it and, professionally, I just think that that is the right way for us to develop our tactics.

Q105   Kelvin Hopkins: Another aspect of the debate—we were broadening the debate somewhat—involves other factors such as restricting alcohol consumption by raising price and so on. There has been a lot of talk about that. Would that help in deterring young people at least from drug and drink-driving?

DCC Briggs: In another job that I have within the Safer Communities Forum, we are looking at the cross-cutting issues of alcohol. I am trying not to stray too far from the issues that the Committee is addressing. You heard evidence earlier regarding young people, but we all know that, in the recent past, we have had a cultural change to this volume drinking, and that has to have a knock-on to driving. It is inevitable. So I do have a view on pricing structure and availability of cheap alcohol, and the consequences across different areas of social and criminal justice. So I do have a broader view on that particular point.

Chair: Mr Gifford, did you want to comment on that?

Robert Gifford: I just wanted to extend, if I might, the answer on enforcement of a moment ago and refer to another of Sir Peter's recommendations, which is that drink and drug-driving should be included in the list of offences brought to justice. I don't know whether the Home Office still has said list. Certainly under the previous Government there was a list of offences brought to justice which Chief Constables had to report on.

Drink-driving is a fantastic offence for the police because you get a very, very high level of conviction. The evidence is pretty robust: 90% of the people who are charged with it are convicted for it, and, therefore, it is a good success story. So if drink and drug-driving were to be included in whatever is reported to the Home Office, that would also raise their political—with a small "p"—importance in terms of enforcement. I can appreciate, otherwise, that if I was a Chief Constable, I might be thinking, "Where does roads policing fit against drug-driving or anti-terrorism or whatever?" If it is on something that I have to report to the Home Secretary about, it becomes more important. As I say, I don't know where the current thinking is on those kinds of issues, but I think Sir Peter made a very important point with that recommendation.

Q106   Kelvin Hopkins: There was one more question, which goes even broader than that. I have long thought that the driving age is too young in Britain. If it was raised just by another year-

Q107   Angela Smith: To 18.

Q108   Kelvin Hopkins:- to 18, the age of majority, would that not be a sensible move which would help?

Angela Smith: That is an interesting one.

Chair: It really is not within the scope of the Inquiry. No, we will not pursue that one now. Ms Greenwood, did you want to come back on that?

Q109   Lilian Greenwood: Yes, and really to come back to Ms Booth. I have some sympathy with a reduction to 20 because it takes away the mixed message that, somehow, it is okay to drink a bit and drive, and nobody really understands. It is very clear in Sir Peter's Report; people don't understand how much "a bit" is. But when Sir Peter was giving evidence earlier it became clear to me that the main reason he seemed to reject that was that you would not be able to retain the 12-month ban if you reduced it down to 20 because of public acceptance. I am wondering what your view is and also what the view of the others is.

Ellen Booth: I don't think that necessarily follows. Brake's point of view is that if we are to ban drink-driving altogether, there is no reason why we should say, "Well, if you drink a little bit and drive that is more acceptable than drinking, say, 50 and driving or 80 and driving". If we are going to send out a clear message, then, yes, you would just say, "All drink-driving is illegal".

Q110   Lilian Greenwood: That is Brake's position?

Ellen Booth: That's Brake's position, yes.

Q111   Lilian Greenwood: Do you have any evidence that there would be public support for those who were caught at, say, 25 or 30 to then suffer a 12-month ban?

Ellen Booth: Yes. I guess Brake have chosen that position for clarity because we work with bereaved families who have very, very strong opinions on these things. If your son is killed you don't ask—this is one example that I was given by a police officer—"Was this driver over 80?" You ask, "Was this driver drinking?" So drink-driving—maybe this is something that not everybody has come to terms with—is a very dangerous activity that does cost people's lives, so taking a tough stance is acceptable from our point of view.

DCC Briggs: I do understand that point of view and have some sympathy with it in relation to what an ideal would be. I do take a slightly pragmatic view, though, in relation to this in terms of acceptability of enforcement to the public, and, also, the rationale in terms of the evidence base around it. So I think that it would be more difficult for us to achieve that. I am not saying that there should not be an aspiration in that direction, but the first thing we need to do is to move from 80 to 50, evaluate and see how that progresses. This is a continuous process of trying to develop effective law enforcement policy.

Q112   Kwasi Kwarteng: I came here with a relatively open mind , but I am, as you say, very concerned about what "a bit" is. I am fairly mature. I like alcoholic drinks but I have no idea, given the plethora of drinks, what 50 mg is in terms, so education, in terms of telling people what, exactly, the limit is, is absolutely crucial. I would be quite happy to live with that if we could say, and be clear to everyone, what 50 mg is. But without that you might as well go to 20, frankly, and that is not a conclusion that I necessarily wanted to draw.

Robert Gifford: For the record, our position is support for lowering the limit to 50 because that is based on science and support for keeping the continuing punishment regime because that will send a very clear message to those people who are caught. There might well be a case for a further 20 mg limit for, for example, those drivers who are involved in either carriage of goods or passenger transport—taxi drivers, coach drivers, bus drivers, HGV drivers. That brings them into line with the regime that operates in airlines and on the railways. We shouldn't forget that part of this can be done through employers encouraging a better control of alcohol in the workplace; having a very clear policy for their workforce that you don't drink while at work. I take your point entirely that we must, if you like, in the middle be looking a bit wishy-washy. It is about what is achievable rather than a moral absolute. I think that is part of the difficulty.

Q113   Kwasi Kwarteng: I am thinking about the smoking ban, actually, where the Government took a very firm decision. I was someone who liked to smoke in pubs, like many people in this room. But there was a clarity about that. We said, "This isn't going to happen any more in public places". I was wondering whether you could argue that the same clarity could be applied to our situation here.

Robert Gifford: Let me put it the other way round. If the Committee came out with a recommendation to lower to 20, I wouldn't be saying, "That's a bad decision". I would be saying, "That's a very, very brave decision which we will thoroughly support".

Chair: No, you mustn't lead the Committee.

Kwasi Kwarteng: I just wanted clarity in my own mind about this.

Q114   Iain Stewart: Just to follow on from the uncertainty about what a unit is—I appreciate that this is a scientific question that you may not be able to answer—are there other factors that influence the level of alcohol in the bloodstream for the same quantity of alcohol? I know, just from my own perception, if I have a glass of wine on an empty stomach on a warm summer's day, it has more of an effect on me than that same glass of wine during the course of a meal. Would that change the level of alcohol in my bloodstream or is it there anyway and it is just other factors that influence it?

Chair: Who can answer that one with authority?

Iain Stewart: I apologise for a scientific question.

DCC Briggs: I wouldn't attempt to be a quasi-scientist in giving a scientific answer. I think the starting point is having nothing to drink. That is the best starting point for any discussion around this. What we have encouraged in many of our campaigns is things like the designated driver. I think that is a really sensible idea. If people go out on a regular basis, you take it in turns. So I think we need to encourage people, in a social way, to change the way that they behave, the way that this tends to work. I do think that there are aspects of size, metabolism, food and the other components that go into this. But I wouldn't attempt to give you the science behind it because that would be wrong.

Chair: At our next question session we will have some medical experts. We will pursue it then. We will not put you on the hot spot.

Are there any other questions from Members? Thank you very much indeed.

Robert Gifford: Thank you.

DCC Briggs: Thank you very much.

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